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Rice mourns the death of Riki Kobayashi


Riki Kobayashi, the Louis Calder Professor Emeritus in Chemical Engineering at Rice University, a pioneer in the field of differential kinetics and a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), died July 19 at age 89.



Kobayashi was born in Webster, Texas, on May 13, 1924. He earned a B.S. in chemical engineering from Rice in 1944 at age 19. He served in the U.S. Army in 1944-45. From the University of Michigan he received an M.S.E. in 1946 and a Ph.D. in 1951, both in chemical engineering. He joined the Rice faculty in 1951 and became an emeritus professor in 1994.

The eulogy for Kobayashi at his funeral on July 22 was delivered by his long-time colleague and friend George J. Hirasaki, the A. J. Hartsook Professor Emeritus in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering:

“When I decided to go to Rice for graduate studies in 1963, my father said to look up one of the Kobayashi boys who was on the faculty. I got an appointment with Riki and he told me to come to Rice for my graduate studies. After that, I did not apply elsewhere. I recall Riki as one of the young faculty members who would throw the football with his students.”

Kobayashi was a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the American Institute of Chemists, and was elected a member of the NAE in 1995. The NAE citation read: “For advances in the knowledge and measurement of the thermodynamic and transport properties of natural gas liquids and gas hydrates.”

He was a member of the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas; the Japan Institute of Chemical Engineering; the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers; and the American Chemical Society. Kobayashi received the Outstanding Engineering Award at Rice in 1985 and the Albert Einstein Medal from the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences in 2010.

At an American Institute of Chemical engineering held in his honor in 1987, Kobayashi was characterized as “one of the century's most prolific researchers in thermodynamic and transport properties.” He pioneered the measurement of hydrocarbon vapor-water-gas equilibrium, phase transitions and molecular diffusivity, and the use of laser light scattering to measure properties in critical regions.

In 1949 Kobayashi co-authored the Handbook of Natural Gas Engineering, a reference work still in print. He published almost 200 articles in professional journals.

“Riki was a loyal alumnus, a dedicated teacher and a renowned researcher.  He had a wry sense of humor and was an independent thinker. In his earlier days, he was a good athlete. We will all miss him,” said C. Sidney Burrus, the Maxfield and Oshman Professor Emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering and former dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice.

Kobayashi is survived by his wife Lee, two sons, two step-daughters and three grandchildren. Kobayashi’s funeral was held July 22 at Forest Park East Funeral Home in Webster. A memorial service will be held at the Rice University Chapel in early August.

Hirasaki concluded his eulogy by saying: “Riki, we honor you and will miss you.”
Contributions to his memory may be made to the Riki Kobayashi Fellowship in Chemical Engineering at Rice University, 6100 Main Street, Houston, TX 77281.

—Patrick Kurp, Engineering Communications